"Please put me back in the water"

My whole life, I’ve loved to be on the water. I paddle tandem canoes, solo canoes, slalom canoes and SUP boards. I launch myself off waterfalls, manoeuvre down slalom courses and enjoy the mist rising off pristine lakes.

My story starts with my grandfather, Bill Mason. His passion ensured that canoeing has become an integral part of our family traditions. He passed his fascination and commitment to my father, and consequently to me. I was introduced to canoeing through canoe camping trips with my parents, both World Champions in different paddling disciplines. At the age of 8, I started paddling my own solo canoe and instantly fell in love with the newfound ability to explore the environment independently. At 14, I joined the Ottawa River Runners slalom club and began training in Whitewater Canoe Slalom.

In between training, I make time for creeking river trips, camping trips and playboat sessions. I firmly believe that developing skills as an all around paddler crosses over into slalom racing. I think that time on natural rivers can be incredibly valuable for developing confidence, skills and motivation.

I continue to train and progress in the sport of C1W. I am currently ranked second in my category in Canada and in 2014, I qualified for the Junior National Slalom team. This achievement has presented me with incredible opportunities to travel across North America, South America and Europe to represent our country, to challenge myself and to further my abilities. By paddling twice a day during the summer, cross training with cross-country skiing, running, swimming, yoga and weight training, these opportunities are continuing to grow.

Each of these opportunities is an integral step in building my capacity to reach my goal of competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Currently, Canoe Slalom Singles is an Olympic sport reserved solely for men. C1W is scheduled to make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Olympics. In order to achieve this gender equity, we need to encourage growth of the sport and to promote female participation in sport at all ages. Throughout my journey, I hope to grow the legacy of canoeing in Canada by becoming an advocate for women and girls in canoeing.

Bill Mason (1929-1988)

Willa Mason

Paddle To The Sea is the little hand-carved indigenous canoeist starring in the award-winning film directed by my grandfather, Bill Mason. It follows “Paddle” as he journeys from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The phrase “Please put me back in the water” is engraved on the bottom of his canoe. It is also engraved on the bottom of my slalom boat, in my mind, and on my website. It is a request to be returned to his journey, to be returned to the place that inspires him.

As he is immersed in the natural elements, the film portrays his vulnerability, emphasizing the power and beauty of the natural world, as well as the infringement of mankind upon it. Throughout Paddle’s journey, we, as viewers, are reminded of our humility in the face of nature, of our fortune to have an incredible natural space to enjoy, and of our responsibility to respect this environment. We are reminded that the Earth is not ours to exploit, but ours with which to develop a healthy relationship. It is a reminder of the impact of our actions.

I keep the phrase “Please put me back in the water” close to my heart because, to me, this film represents the essence of my passion. I fell in love with canoeing because it allows me to explore rivers, to meet new people, and to challenge myself. Pursuing competitive canoeing has opened up a journey of promoting gender equity in sport, mastering my mental mindset, and challenging myself in all aspects of my life. Through all the ups and downs, “Please put me back in the water” is a reminder to not lose sight of my fundamental values. It is my reminder that I can choose to return to where I am happiest, my reminder that I can make the choice to maintain the inquisitive, passionate mindset that founded this journey.

It is my reminder that at the basis of this competitive lifestyle, remains the same simple passion that once overwhelmed a little girl in the bow of her parent’s canoe.

Paddle to the Sea, by Bill Mason

Pictures of Bill Mason and Paul Mason

As an athlete, I am proud to represent Canada. As an active member in my community, I would like to represent local businesses. I balance paddling, school, and a part time job. The costs of training camps, equipment and travel present a financial challenge. If you would like to be a part of my journey to becoming the first Canadian C1W Olympian, please join my team.

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